Rooney Rule: Is It Working For Minority Coaches?

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Several NFL teams are in the market for new head coaches. The Dallas Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos have all fired their coaches recently. The Rooney Rule was put in place to encourage diversity in the coaching ranks, and requires teams to interview a minority candidate before making a head coach or management hire.


Pro football's regular season is nearing its end, which means that some teams will be going to the playoffs while other teams, losing teams, will be firing their coaches. Some of already have, like the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos.

Our commentator John Ridley has been following these developments as a football fan and as a critic of a continuing NFL hiring practice. It's called the Rooney Rule. It requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a new head coach or filling a top management position.

John, welcome back to the program.

JOHN RIDLEY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: So we should mention the Rooney Rule here, which is named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was put into place in - after -for the 2003 season. What was the thinking behind that rule?

RIDLEY: Well, the thinking was that in the modern era of NFL football, that there had only been five black head coaches. And around 2002 season, there were only two who were active. And you're talking about an organization where 70 percent of the players were black. And a lot of people inside and outside the NFL were looking at it, saying, look. There's something wrong with the system where you are not getting minority players who are making their way into head coaching positions. So...

INSKEEP: So they didn't say you must hire a minority coach. But they said team owners, you must at least interview a minority coaching candidate anytime you have an opening. How's it working?

RIDLEY: Well, I would look at it and say it's been a wild success. Right now, you have eight coaches, more than at any other time. And in addition to that, you've had four black coaches who've gone on to the Super Bowl, and two who've won championships.

So you look at that, in about seven seasons, that's a pretty successful program.

INSKEEP: Well, that sounds pretty good, and yet you seem critical of this rule.

RIDLEY: Well, I'm critical in the sense that after you have a program that is that successful, you wonder: Do we still need this to Rooney Rule? When you start to get into the arcane workings of it, is it fair all the way around, both to some white coaches and to some black coaches?

I think one of the things that made the Rooney Rule successful was there was no quota system. You didn't have to go out and hire a coach, but you did have to interview a minority candidate.

Well, here's where it gets a little bit tricky. You look at a situation in, for example, Dallas this year. We had Jason Garrett, who was replacing Wade Phillips. He's doing a really good job. And it makes it very difficult for a guy like Jerry Jones, at this point in the season, to be supportive of a guy like that. Because when he starts to say I like this guy, I think I'm going to keep this guy around, he's immediately in violation of the Rooney Rule.

INSKEEP: Oh, because he's supposed to, as the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, at least consider a minority candidate when he gets ready to fill the full-time job.

RIDLEY: You got to go into it with an open mind. But let's be realistic. If you've got a guy that you like and you've got a guy who's doing a good job, or there's somebody out there that you think is going to fit into your program, it makes it difficult to demonstrate what's really in your heart. And that becomes a problem because a lot of coaches start to feel - black or white - that a lot of these interviews become sham interviews, that they're just being held so that a minority coach will be brought in, but nobody has an intention of hiring these coaches.

INSKEEP: So let's say you became the NFL commissioner. What would you do with this rule?

RIDLEY: What I'd do with the Rooney Rule is I would put a clock on it. I would say in the next three years - three seasons would be about a decade - we're going to end the Rooney Rule.

Now, I don't want to get arcane, but the Rooney Rule also covers GMs, and it covers the people in the front office. I would keep that in place, because I think there's some work to be done there. But if I were the commish, I would say I'm going to put a clock on the Rooney Rule.

And, by the way, I think you could go out saying it's a wild success. And I think that's one of the reasons the NFL should hold it up as being a program that has really done the job.

John Ridley is a screenwriter and editor of, and a pro-football fan.

John, thanks very much.

RIDLEY: Thanks for having me.

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